In the first part of our series on our touring members, we bring you the Sheikh of Pakistan:
When did your love for Pakistan cricket begin?
My love for Pakistan cricket started when l was about four years old. My parents would watch Pakistan play cricket and get so excited and happy. Every time they hit a 6 or a 4 they would shout out “Chikha” or “Chokha” and each time Pakistan took a wicket again they would celebrate. That for me at the age of four years was fantastic. It gave me the license to jump around go wild and my parents wouldn’t tell me off…great! l began to like the Pakistan team because every time they would play l’d get away with being naughty. And just to add if ever Pakistan won a match us kids would get treated to a bag of chips. Back in the seventies and eighties the only time we would have chips would be on Eid or if Pakistan won a match. I remember my father having this huge radio that he would tune into Pakistan news and sports and he’d sit there listening carefully to the match and every so often he’d shout out in joy…oh it was fantastic we would celebrate with him not really knowing why and what we were celebrating.
Which was the first Pakistan game you attended?
My first ever Pakistan cricket match was when l was about eight years old. We were in Lahore at the old Gaddafi Stadium… it was Pakistan against England. l went along with my Mahmo (uncle) on his motorbike. It was the first time l sat on a motorbike and the first time l went to watch a Pakistan cricket match. I was well excited. That to me was the highlight of my holiday in Pakistan. Oh not to mention we ate samosas at the ground and l had a bottled drink. I was having the time of my life. The crowd was so passionate it was an amazing atmosphere. I would cheer along, be singing and dancing with my Mahmo it was great.
Why are you so passionate about Pakistan cricket?
Why am l so passionate about Pakistan cricket…because l’ve been following it from a very young age. It brings people together, it unites us all, it identifies us a Pakistanis, it brings joy and happiness to so many people across the globe and it’s simply a great sport. Winning is ultimately the best part of the game. Losing is also part of the game. So win lose or draw l still passionately love Pakistan cricket. I’ve always been interested and concerned with all the controversy surrounding Pakistan cricket. Even at the matches they are so unpredictable you just don’t know what team’s going to turn up on the day. Which adds to the excitement of the game. Pakistan has such talented players that they on the day can outshine any team and any player. They break records with their quality performances and unfortunately break records with their poor performances, but thats part of the game and that’s what makes them an exciting team to follow. I’ve seen and heard how hard our Pakistani players practice and try their level best so we shouldn’t feel disheartened if we lose. Besides we can’t win all the time… just most of the time.
Coming to the more recent past, describe your outfit and why you chose this character?
As you may gather, l’ve been passionate about Pakistan cricket for many years. I’ve always felt I wish l could give something back to the players for their hard work, their effort, their entertainment and determination to continue to strive and struggle. So back in 2010 at my home ground Edgbaston Birmingham, Pakistan was playing Australia in two T20s. I decided to hire an Incredible Hulk fancy dress costume. Which l wore to the second match. Along with me was my nephew who dressed up as a Ninja Turtle. We had such a great time that l thought to myself l’d love to dress up in all Pakistan’s matches. We managed to meet the players after the game who were absolutely thrilled to see us in our superhero outfits. But to us they were our superheroes. This was the day l met Mr Pakistan and Pakman at Edgbaston who like me made their first ever appearance in fancy dress. We became friends from there.
A short while after the match l started to take lslam more seriously and started practicing being a Muslim. I decided to grow my beard in accordance to the teachings and command of Muhammad peace be upon him. Pakistan was touring England and l went to watch the decider at The Rose Bowl in Southampton and didn’t feel it right to dress up as a character as l now resembled the Sunnah of a Muslim. I went with my Pakistan t-shirt. I missed being a character. Nevertheless in 2012 l got invited to tour Sri Lanka for the World Cup T20 by Mr Pakistan. He was determined to get me on this tour and wanted me to dress up as a character. I then went to the drawing board and after spending hours on end found an Arab Sheikh costume which l felt would be appropriate for me to wear which wouldn’t comprise my religious beliefs. I then custom made it to my specification. And away l went to Sri Lanka to watch Pakistan play.
When did you first hear of Stani Army?
I first heard of Stani Army from Mr Pakistan a few years ago when he invited me to the Caribbean tour back in 2011. The only trouble was l had used up all my holiday entitlement for that year and was unable to go with him. He then mentioned about Stani Army being the same as the Barmy Army but instead with Pakistani fans. It sounded great. I did say to Mr Pakistan when you next plan to go away to let me know and so he did with Sri Lanka hosting the T20 World Cup. This time l was ready to go.
When was your first tour as part of the Stani Army and how was the experience?
My first match as the new Sheikh Of Pakistan was when Pakistan played New Zealand in Pallekelle in Sri Lanka. I remember walking into the ground and noticed how people were stopping to stare at me. It felt great l was liked for wearing my outfit. Fortunately we beat New Zealand in the qualifying game. I was enjoying the response I was getting from the fans and the staff at the ground not to mention the media they would stop us, the Stani Army, for interviews. It was better than I expected.
I recently went to Scotland to watch Pakistan play Scotland but unfortunately it was called off due to bad weather. My next tour is on Sunday 26th May 2013 lnsha Allah (God willing). And then l intend to follow all Pakistan’s matches as l had purchased the tickets back in November lnsha Allah. I am looking to continue with my tours abroad lnsha Allah.
Which was the most memorable match you have been to as The Sheikh of Pakistan?
The most memorable match as The Sheikh of Pakistan was when we played South Africa in Columbo. It wasn’t looking good for us at one stage we were chasing a score but kept losing wickets. It was Mughrib (prayer) time approaching so I gathered a few of us and went out of the stadium to pray…at that point we lost another wicket. The two batsmen at the crease were Umar Akmal and Umar Gul. We continued to pray and before we left l looked at the scoreboard and thought it’s going to take a miracle to win from here. As we prayed Mughrib salah, we kept hearing a lot of noises, none the wiser of what was going on and when we got back to the stadium we saw the score and said Subhan Allah (Glorious is God), both the Umars secured us victory. When we got back to our seats then others said it seems like Allah accepted your prays. All praise is due to Allah.
Sheikh, what was your most cherished memory of the Sri Lanka tour?
The most cherished moment l would say of the Sri Lanka tour was when we met the Pakistan cricket team. We met the lovely Kathy Whatmore, the wife of our fabulous coach Dav Whatmore, who arranged for us to meet the team for a short while. I remember seeing the reaction of the players and they looked amazed at us all dressed up in our respected outfits. The best reaction l got was from the great Saeed Ajmal who when he saw me said ‘Masha Allah’ (as God has willed). His facial expressions said it all. We had such a great time meeting the team l don’t think any of us slept that night we all were so excited and overwhelmed.
Any messages and advice for the Pakistan fans going to the Champions Trophy?
My message and advice for the fans ahead of the games would be: Enjoy the matches win lose or draw go out and be positive. Insha Allah we win the Champions Trophy 2013. Please be respectful to one another, to the opposition’s fans the ground staff. In fact to everyone. We want the world to know that the Pakistan fans are the best behaved and honourable fans. We want to do ourselves, our team and Pakistan proud.
If you can dress up please do. It will create such a great atmosphere to the games and try to create characters that nobody is because then you’re unique and you will get recognised for the character you are. The more characters we have the better our group of fans will look. Please do come over to meet the growing team. I would love to have my picture taken with yourselves. Pakistan Zindabad!!!!!!